Review: The game of pick up stacks.

One of the early games in the Nestorgames abstract line, Abande is a one three games designed by Dieter Stein to form his stacking trilogy. Attangle and Accasta are the other two, and Attangle can be played on an Abande set.

Abande is usually played on a 37-space board with 18 black and white stackable pieces. Players take alternate turns to either place a piece on one of the empty spaces of the board, or make a capturing move. Once they have played all their pieces, they may also pass, and the game ends when both players pass in turn.

The object of the game is straightforward: score points by controlling stacks by the end of the game. The player whose piece is at the top of the stack (a single piece is considered a very short stack) controls it.

Capturing is simple, the player controlling a stack can move it to an adjacent space on top of the pieces already there provided the total height of the new stack is 3 pieces or less. To avoid shenanigans, players cannot capture their own stacks. Once a stack reaches 3 pieces, it can neither move nor be captured and remains stationary until the end of the game.

During the whole game, players must always ensure that all the pieces form a single connected group of pieces, the eponymous band. This provides many opportunities for defensive play, a piece in the middle of a line of pieces cannot make a capture in either direction as it would break the band. Of course, once that line becomes part of a loop, everyone is free to capture either way.

Finally, there’s the scoring. At the end of the game, each player receives points equal to the height of each stack they control. The inevitable twist here is that only stacks which are adjacent to at least one opposing stack count. This was described by the designer as the heart of the game. Without this simple rule, players would be free to play only in their own halves of the board, barely interacting at all. With it, the game particularly in the latter half, becomes a tense set of decisions on how best to control an area, while still keeping some opposing stacks around. Often an opposing stack will be rendered safe just as a score-enabler for the other player, sometimes one will be deliberately trapped for the same purpose.

I’ve written up  couple of session reports that illustrate some of the different ways this game can play out. I initially suspected that it would be a game of long chains of safe pieces, kept until the loop was closed and things collapsed, but with a few more plays, we’ve seen other things, like a patchwork of different pieces nearly covering the board until one player finally blinked and began the sudden and vicious folding up into an end-game state.

Abande doesn’t take that long to play. We’ve successfully used it both as a quick game as a filler for two people caught out between games, or waiting for other games to finish. We found games typically lasted around over 20-25 minutes, although not any longer with new players.

For folks looking for a little more variety, Nestorgames sells Abande-squared, a set of two variant boards which in which the nodes are connected differently. I’ve not explored them in detail, but appreciate the differences when nodes become more or less easy to connect to, or surround. It’s also possible to get the rules for Dieter’s Accasta and play it on the same board.

I’m fond of Abande. Seeing an interesting game arise from simply rules is one of the joys of being an abstract games fan. The different phases of the game, as players scramble for board position, and then scoring positions are nifty, and I’m impressed with the variety of play possible. One of my favourite travelling games from Nestorgames.